Hydro Sites Cause Tremendous Damage, claims U.S. Group

An environmental group is concerned that the United States will increase the damage caused by hydroelectric facilities, and wants more research directed to renewable energy.

WASHINGTON, DC, US, 2001-04-23 <SolarAccess.com> Nearly half of the 13 rivers that are cited on the latest “America’s Most Endangered Rivers” report are listed due to the impacts of hydropower, fossil fuel combustion, and contamination from manufacturing components of the nation’s energy grid. The report is prepared each year by American Rivers and other environmental groups, as part of their campaign to profile the damage caused by large hydroelectric facilities. The 2001 report explores the link between rivers and energy production, with special attention to the impacts of hydropower, fossil fuel extraction, and fossil fuel combustion, and contains recommendations for a more sustainable energy future. “The rivers on this year’s list demonstrate how damming, drilling, digging and burning to produce energy pollute drinking water, deny the public recreational opportunities, and drive river wildlife to extinction,” says Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers. “The Administration and some members of Congress have proposed stopgap measures to increase domestic energy production which will exacerbate these problems without resulting in long-term solutions.” The “tremendous damage to rivers across the country” could be reduced or avoided by increasing efforts to use energy efficiently, produce conventional energy responsibly, and expand the supply of energy from clean and renewable sources, she explains. There are 2,400 hydroelectric dams in the United States, which she claims cause “disproportionate damage” to rivers while generating less than 10 percent of the country’s electricity. “Poorly run dams drown important wildlife habitat under reservoirs. They block migratory fish from spawning grounds, and vary downstream flows between a trickle and scouring torrents. This transforms a river as profoundly as clear cutting a forest.” A small hydropower project on California’s Eel River has caused salmon and steelhead populations to fall by 97 percent, while meeting less than 0.02 percent of the state’s energy needs, details the report. “Millions of acres of land and countless river miles have been scarred by the extraction of fossil fuels,” while the combustion of coal, oil and natural gas generates pollution. “We can”t solve 21st century energy problems with 19th century solutions,” says Wodder. “We need to embrace new technologies and policies that will provide for a more sustainable energy future.” American Rivers wants more aggressive use of best management practices and best available technologies to ensure that conventional power generation is conducted in a sensitive manner, and the group wants hydropower facilities to seek certification from the Low Impact Hydropower Institute. To encourage the increasing competitiveness of wind and solar energy, it supports redirecting federal efforts to promote fossil fuel development towards environmentally preferable energy. “Federal support for research and development in information technology created the foundation of the Internet,” she explains. “The government should nurture a similar transformation in energy technology.” The group also supports new tax incentives, updated building codes, and revised government contracting procedures to speed market penetration of fluorescent light bulbs, high efficiency heating and cooling equipment, and other technologies which have the potential to reduce energy consumption and save money. “Energy is the cornerstone of modern society, and many years of stable low prices have made us complacent about our long-term needs,” says Wodder. “The consequence of the current energy crunch on our rivers is a wakeup call that we can”t put off doing the right thing any longer.”

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